The Health Benefits of Happiness

Who doesn’t want to feel happy? A good mood may put a spring in your step -- but researchers have found that happiness may do even more by protecting your immune system, aiding heart health and boosting disease-fighting genes. And it’s not just any type of happiness – the source of your joy makes all the difference.
While past studies have shown how negativity can affect your physical health, not as much research has covered how positive emotions might improve it. In a 2013 study at the University of North Carolina, researchers examined the effects of two different kinds of happiness on the human genome: eudaimonic well-being (happiness linked to a sense of purpose in life) and hedonic well-being (happiness linked to pleasure). The researchers looked at the effects of the two on inflammation along with the production of antiviral and antibody genes -- all essential to the body’s ability to fight off bacteria, viruses and disease.
Study participants who had a deep sense of purpose and meaning in life had low inflammation levels and strong production of antiviral and antibody genes. But those high on hedonic happiness saw the opposite effect: Their levels of inflammatory genes were higher, while their production of antibody and antiviral genes was lower.
Study author Steven Cole, PhD, a professor of medicine at UCLA, noted that participants had similar feelings of happiness, no matter which group they fell into. "What this study tells us is that doing good and feeling good have very different effects on the human genome, even though they generate similar levels of positive emotion,” he said in a press release.
How Happiness Makes Your Heart Healthy
Happiness that stems from engagement in life, along with a sense of optimism and enthusiasm may benefit your heart as well. In a study led by Laura Kubzansky, PhD, professor of social and behavioral sciences at the Harvard School of Public Health, 6,000 men and women were followed over a 20-year period. The focus was looking for a possible link between coronary heart disease risk and positive mental health. The researchers found that “emotional vitality” actually decreases the chance of heart disease -- and that the benefit of a sunny outlook was measurable next to other heart boosters, such as not smoking and exercising regularly.
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